‘Australian Bee Gees’ stars mastered more than music
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org July 8, 2013 7:40PM
BEE GEES SHOW’
When: Tuesday to Aug. 4
Where: Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut
Info: (800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Updated: August 10, 2013 6:04AM
Imitation or evocation? That, invariably, is the question facing any singer-musician-actor when it comes to performing in a tribute band or even when playing a pop icon in more theatricalized tributes such as “The Jersey Boys,” “Million Dollar Quartet” and “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story.”
Just ask the three performers who star in “The Australian Bee Gees Show,” which will be spinning the disco ball and weaving the irresistibly harmonic ballads of the mega-selling British-born, Australian-bred trio of brothers, at the Broadway Playhouse this summer. Playing the music of a band that has sold more than 220 million records worldwide, and had their songs recorded by at least 2,500 artists, is the easy part. Finding just the right accent, mannerisms and interplay is trickier. Capturing some aspect of the actual look of the guys is an added bonus.
The Bee Gees show that opens here July 9 (by way of the producers of “RAIN — A Tribute to The Beatles”), is a revised and enhanced version of one that has played more than 2,000 performances in 40 countries over the past 17 years, and, since February 2011, has been in residence at the Excalibur Casino in Las Vegas.
The members of the Chicago cast — who have served as fill-ins and replacements for the Vegas production, and also toured — include California-bred Matt Boldoni as Barry Gibb (the only surviving brother), with his younger twin brothers played by Australian natives Paul Lines (as Robin) and Jack Leftley (as Maurice).
A largely chronological “retrospective,” complete with elaborate multimedia elements, the show homes in on four important moments in the band’s career, with all the appropriate costume evolution, too.
There is the 1968 concert at the Palace in Manchester, England, when the group cemented its global appeal after a decade as a hit band in Australia. There is the 1979 Spirits Having Flown tour that played to sold out arenas in 38 cities in the wake of the group’s monumentally successful soundtrack for the John Travolta film, “Saturday Night Fever.” There is the difficult period in the 1980s when their disco sound fell out of favor and they became “uncool,” but found a way of “staying alive” by penning hits for others, including Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross. And finally there is their 1999 concert in the newly-built Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Along the way there are performances of early hits (“Massachusetts,” “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “To Love Somebody”), and later classics (“Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “How Deep is Your Love” and “You Should Be Dancin’”).
“We’re representing a family, as well as a monumentally influential band,” said Baldoni, a classically trained guitarist who has traveled with everyone from Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons to Il Divo, and was tapped for the Bee Gees show while working in Vegas. “And as the lone American in an Aussie show I’m in an interesting situation, as well as a constant state of study.”
As for capturing the proper sound, Baldoni noted: “The Gibb brothers spent their early childhood in England and then moved to Australia, so the accents are hard to pin down. On top of that, vowels can change when singers sing, especially with someone like Barry whose falsetto notes are so darn high. The Bee Gees’ sound is not easy to replicate.”
For Lines, a drummer who formed his own band while still in high school in Shepparton Victoria, Australia, one challenge in playing Robin is “that he was quirky on stage, especially in the early days. He was a bit of a character — very dry and sarcastic, and a lover of practical jokes — and the more I discover him, the more I just like the guy
“Robin also had the most pronounced British accent. The Beatles were a big influence on the group, of course, but also the Everly Brothers. And while many of the groups in the British invasion tended to write pop-oriented tunes designed to get you dancing, the Bee Gees went the other way, with some very melancholic tunes, and by the late 1960s their somewhat somber, emotional approach caught on. Then they caught hold of the Motown sound.”
Lines only met Jack Leftley, who plays his onstage “twin,” Maurice, when the two boarded a plane in late 2011.
“Jack is about 20 years younger than I am,” said Lines. “But we’re similar in height and mannerisms, and in our likes and dislikes and sense of humor, so it’s easy to create the illusion.”
Leftley, a multi-instrumentalist and producer who grew up studying at his father’s music school in Adelaide, South Australia, joined his first professional cover band at age 11, and spent his teens and young adult years in tribute acts about Elvis, Johnny Cash and others.
“I watched a lot of video to see how Maurice’s hands worked the keyboard,” said Leftley. “I wanted to see which foot he tapped and how he moved his eyes.”
“Somehow there is a certain physical resemblance all three of us manage to find. And when we get the sound right — the way the brothers’ very individual voices interlocked — it can be really chilling.”